By Khalida Sarwari
For longtime Saratogan Jill Hunter, St. Patrick’s Day is a time to reflect on her Irish heritage, one she wears proudly on her finger in the form of a ring that once belonged to her great-grandmother, who immigrated to Brooklyn in the 1880s with her sister, Molly.
The sisters would go on to marry Irish brothers and the rest, as the say, is history. In recent years, the former mayor and New York native who attended college in Boston, one of America’s most Irish towns, has worked hard to bring some of that spirit to her hometown in Saratoga.
“I’ve always loved St. Patrick’s Day,” said Hunter. “I learned to sign Irish songs as I was growing up from my uncle and I’m delighted that I can share that enthusiasm with the rest of Saratoga. I love sharing the fun of St. Patrick’s Day with everyone else in the community.”
Hunter’s Saratoga Village Development Council group has been putting on the city’s popular St. Paddy’s Day event for the past 12 years. The attraction tends to draw people from beyond Saratoga’s walls, to the tune of 500 total attendees last year, according to Hunter.
This year, once again, the SVDC received a stipend from the city to organize the event. The $800 community event grant will go toward paying for supplies and volunteers.
The event, slated for the afternoon of March 11, will feature pennies, rocks, bagpipes and even a leprechaun. Numerous activities are planned for the green-themed day, especially for the little ones. The festivities are scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. and start at the Bank of America parking lot, where participants are invited to pick up bags for a scavenger hunt for pennies and magical green rocks.
They can then make their way up and down sidewalks on Big Basin Way, gathering pennies from the sidewalks and looking for rocks in plants. The younger children will receive a prize for every six rocks they collect, while kids 7 and older will be rewarded for every 15 rocks they find.
Aside from rock hunting, participants are invited to dabble in a little arts and crafts at a rock-painting booth or drop by various businesses for complimentary St. Patrick’s Day-themed treats. Businesses with a green balloon outside their storefronts are the ones that will have some kind of green treat to give out, said Hunter.
The Big Basin Burger Bar will give out green shakes to kids; The Chamber of Commerce will serve green popcorn; The Barn Owl will have green candy and sodas. Deja & Co. will serve green lemonade and cookies and hold a jewelry prize drawing. Agnes Women’s Boutique and Daydream Salon will both hand out green candy.
Bruce Cotter will return to play the bagpipes up and down Big Basin Way, the Saratoga Youth Commission will offer green nail polish application and face painting, while Saratoga’s favorite leprechaun, Dianne Tuley-Brown, will set up shop on Fourth Street and Big Basin Way, where she’ll be spinning green cotton candy.
It will be business as usual for Tuley-Brown, another longtime Saratogan who’s been donning her signature green top hat and “shamrocky” green vest and red beard to satisfy the sweet teeth of St. Paddy’s Day revelers for the past five years. This year, she’s bringing her red-bearded 21-year-old son, Clayton, to assist her.
“There are so many people (who line up) that it has evolved into a two-leprechaun job,” she said with a laugh.
For Tuley-Brown, the effort of lugging a cotton candy machine and paper cones to the sidewalk and putting on an Irish accent as she hands out the sweet stuff to passersby year in and year out is worthwhile, because “it makes everybody feel happy and festive,” she said. Like Hunter, Tuley-Brown, whose day job is chief financial officer for a startup, traces some of her ancestry to Greyabbey, Ireland.
“I guess the whole thing, it just creates a sense of magic. The kids and adults are happy to see a leprechaun, happy to hear a leprechaun, happy to have green cotton candy,” she said. “It just brings the tradition and the magic.”
All treats and activities are free to attendees. The event takes place from 2 to 4 p.m. along Big Basin Way. Road closures are not anticipated.